Criminal Defense Attorney in Orlando
Being accused of a crime is a serious matter and one that can have a lasting effect on your future. Depending on the severity of the accusations against you, you may be faced with time in jail, probation, fines, and damage to your reputation. In addition, the criminal justice system and the law in general, can be complex and confusing. When accused of committing a criminal offense, it is imperative to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney in order to protect your rights, to fully understand the accusations against you, and to understand the consequences of a conviction.
Arrested in Orlando? Here’s What to Expect
If you’ve been arrested or accused of committing a crime in Orlando or the Central Florida area, you may be overwhelmed and very likely you don’t know what to expect next. In Florida, following an arrest, an individual is taken to a central location for “booking.” At this time your photo will be taken, fingerprints obtained, and a process followed before you enter the facility.
After the booking and within the first 24 hours of your arrest, you will proceed to the First Appearance. You are now considered a defendant. At this time, the judge will determine bail and advise you of the charges against you. Once bail is set, you must pay the bail amount to the court so that you can be released from jail while awaiting future court dates. The purpose of bail is to ensure that you will return to the court. Once you reappear in court, the bail money paid will be returned to you.
In felony cases in Florida where a defendant has not been charged within twenty-one days of the date of the arrest, another hearing, known as the Preliminary Hearing, may be available in some cases. At this hearing, the prosecution must prove probable cause for the arrest. If the state is unable to show probable cause, the case may be dismissed.
The Charges: Misdemeanor or Felony
One or several charges may be filed against you. Each charge against you will be classified as a misdemeanor or felony. Although being accused of any type of crime can have profound consequences, felonies are more serious and carry heavier punishments and fines. Florida law categorizes the criminal penalties as follows:
Misdemeanor Criminal Penalties
- First Degree – imprisonment not to exceed 1 year and fines up to $1,000
- Second Degree – imprisonment not to exceed 60 days and fines up to $500
Felony Criminal Penalties
- Capital Felony – up to life in prison without possibility of parole or even death in certain cases
- Life Felony – up to life in prison or for a term of at least 30 years and fines up to $15,000
- First-Degree Felony – up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000
- Second-Degree Felony – up to 15 years in prison and fines up to $10,000
- Third-Degree Felony – up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000
Many of us have heard the term “plea bargain” in the news and in high profile cases. A plea bargain is an agreement where the defendant enters a guilty plea in exchange for a predetermined sentence. This usually means pleading guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for waiving the right to a jury trial and a dismissal of the original, more serious charge.
To accept a plea deal and waive your right to a trial by a jury is a big decision and one that should be thoroughly discussed with your attorney. You want to fully understand what accepting a plea bargain means and whether accepting the offer is in your best interest.
The arraignment is the point in the case where probable cause has been determined, and you, as the defendant, are asked to enter a plea to the charges against you. Consulting an attorney prior to or during this point in the criminal process is very important. You will be asked to plead:
- Not guilty
- Nolo contendere (no contest) – by entering this plea, the defendant does not admit guilt; however, a no contest plea has the same effect as a guilty plea. The defendant will be convicted and sentenced. The difference is the defendant does not admit guilt. This plea must be accepted by the court.
Many times, a not guilty plea can often be changed during the criminal proceeding. Changing a guilty plea to a not guilty plea may not be possible after a period of time. Your plea is an essential element of your case and can subsequently impact plea bargains and the final resolution of your case. It is essential that you fully understand your plea and the implications of it and why it is so important to speak with an attorney prior to entering your plea.
Trial in Orlando
If you and your attorney enter a not guilty plea at the arraignment, your case will be set for trial. The very idea of a criminal trial can be stressful and overwhelming, and the process can be difficult to understand.
The United States Constitution guarantees your right to a trial by a jury of your peers. You do not have to exercise your right to a jury trial, however. Should you choose to waive this right, you and your attorney will need to make that decision. For example, you may decide to waive your right to a jury trial if your attorney recommends entering a plea deal. If you choose to exercise your right to trial by jury, your defense attorney and the prosecution, will then select the “jury of your peers.” This process is known as voir dire.
Following jury selection, the trial will begin. Once the defense and the prosecution have presented their case, the jury will deliberate and then return a verdict — guilty or not guilty. The burden of proof is high in a criminal case. Each juror must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. Unless every juror is convinced this burden was met, a guilty verdict cannot be entered.
Your Criminal Defense
During trial, your attorney will present your defense. The facts of every criminal case are unique and the defenses applicable to each case will be different. Your attorney will present the strongest defense possible for your individual case. Your attorney will consider these defenses among others:
- Your rights under the United States Constitution were violated. Examples of constitutional protections include the 4th Amendment which guarantees the right to be free from illegal search and seizure and the 5th Amendment guaranteeing the right to be silent and the right against double jeopardy.
- Self-defense, or the justifiable use of force.
- The statute of limitations bars the prosecution’s claim. The statute of limitations is the time within which a criminal action must be brought against an accused. After that statute of limitations has run the case may be subject to dismissal.
- An alibi. An alibi is evidence that the accused was somewhere else when the criminal act occurred.
- Entrapment. This defense provides that the accused was tricked into committing a crime so that the he or she would then be prosecuted.
- Not guilty by reason of insanity. This defense is an argument that the defendant cannot be responsible for the criminal act due to psychiatric disease.
- Challenging the admissibility, accuracy, or sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence. This includes providing evidence that casts doubt on the prosecution’s case and, therefore, prevents proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Following trial, if you are found guilty of a crime, the judge will then determine the sentence, or punishment for the crime. In Florida, criminal sentencing guidelines are used for all defendants and all crimes across the state of Florida. A Criminal Punishment Code Scoresheet is used to calculate a defendant’s minimum sentence in Felony cases.
When completing a Criminal Punishment Code Scoresheet, the primary offense (crime) is “scored.” Then, additional points will be added to the scorecard for:
- Secondary offenses
- Prior criminal history
- Severity of the crime and/ or injuries to a victim
- Whether the defendant was on probation when committing the current offense
- Use of a firearm while committing the criminal act
All the points are then added. The more points on the scorecard, the higher the possibility you will face a mandatory prison sentence. A judge has only limited circumstances under which he or she can deviate from the mandatory sentence. Otherwise, if your total points do not equate to an amount requiring a mandatory prison sentence, the judge has discretion to decide what punishment you will face. The punishment may include probation, jail time, or a combination of both.
It is important to know that the prosecution prepares the Criminal Punishment Code Scoresheet before presenting it to the defense attorney. Your attorney will then review the scorecard thoroughly to check for any inaccurate or missing information before providing it to the judge. Mistakes on the scorecard could mean a difference in your sentence.
Private Attorney or Public Defender?
The 6th Amendment to the United State Constitution provides a defendant the right to be represented by an attorney during a criminal trial. If a defendant cannot afford an attorney, he or she will be appointed one. This type of attorney is known as a public defender.
Defendants must meet certain financial criteria in order to have a public defender appointed. If you have a choice for your legal representation, should you work with the public defender or hire a private attorney?
Public defenders and private criminal defense attorneys both have the same education. Both have an undergraduate degree, attend law school, and then pass the bar examination before becoming a licensed attorney. In fact, Mr. Bakay is a former public defender. There are some advantages, however, to hiring a private attorney that you may want to consider:
- Private attorneys generally have much smaller caseloads. Public defenders typically have a very high case volume and, therefore, less time to spend on each case.
- Hiring a private attorney means you get to choose your attorney. You can make sure that you like and trust your attorney before hiring them. You will not get to choose your public defender, however.
- Your case may take longer to resolve with a public defender due to their large caseloads.
Hiring an Attorney Can Help Protect Your Rights
If you are accused of committing a crime, you are undoubtedly worried and stressed. The laws that may determine your future can be complex and confusing. A criminal defense attorney is important to help you understand the charges against you and your legal rights and options going forward. A criminal defense attorney will:
- Provide legal representation and defend you against criminal charges
- Provide advice on Florida law
- Provide advice and recommendations regarding the complex criminal process
- Know how to investigate and/or hire expert witnesses, if necessary
- Provide his or her experience in negotiation/ plea deals
- Provide support
Mr. Bakay of the Law Office of Mark Bakay is here to help you through this difficult process. Mr. Bakay has valuable experience in several areas of criminal law, including:
- DUI Cases
- Drug Crimes
- Violent Crimes
- White Collar Crimes
- Juvenile Crimes
Call attorney Mark Bakay at the Law Office of Mark Bakay to schedule an initial consultation and to discuss the unique facts of your case with an experienced attorney.
Authoritative Sources: Florida Statutes, Sections 775.082, 4th Amendment United States Constitution, 5th Amendment United States Constitution, 6th Amendment United States Constitution